I am not raising obedient children…

by Kelly Bartlett on May 13, 2011

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…nor do I want to.  Not that I would rather have disobedient kids, but actually…that’s closer to the truth.  What? (You say.)  What crazy parent would want this?

To me, the word “obedient” has such a negative connotation when used in reference to raising children; it literally means to obey.  As in, orders.  Is that what parenting is?  Ordering our children through their youth?  I guess it would be nice if my kids followed my orders just because I said so.  Put your toys away.  Eat this food.  Find new friends.  Date this person, not that person.  Take this job, not that one.  Have your first child by this date.  Buy a house at this random location on the map, just because I said so.  My point is that if we are teaching our kids to be “obedient,” at what point do we stop ordering them around?  And what if there’s a strong reason not to obey someone’s order?  A “good child (one who is taught to be obedient) might not have the forethought to see a situation through.

I don’t want children who obey without hesitation.  I want children who can think for themselves, recognize and listen to their feelings and instincts and respond appropriately.  I guess what I mean when I say I’d rather my kids be “dis”obedient is really more like be deliberate.  I want my kids to think about what they’re doing; assess the situations they’re in and make internally motivated decisions.  I don’t want them to do things just because I said so.  Though I know that with the number and types of interactions I have with my kids at their current ages of 4 and 6 years old, doing things because I said so would certainly be nice sometimes.  All of the questioning, reasoning, arguing and explaining I hear after a simple request does get time-consuming and tiring.

But I appreciate the thought my kids put into their explanations to not do something I ask.  Raising non-obedient kids will become very important in several years when they are out alone–maybe with friends or maybe truly on their own, in either case, without parents–and must evaluate an emotionally or physically risky situation.  They need to be able to recognize their feelings, appreciate the significance of those feelings, and trust their instincts to make a considerate and educated decision; a fitting decision.  Not an obedient decision.

Getting out of the mindset that children need to obey parents “because we say so” and, instead, developing a mutually respectful relationship that inspires independent thinking will be hugely beneficial for my kids and our family in about 10 years.  As aggravating as some situations at this point in time, I will gladly take this challenge on now rather than later.



Editor’s Note: Attachment Parenting International is a non-sectarian organization and therefore we don’t take positions on religious views. However, I do encourage everyone to be respectful of one another as they post their own personal views. The world is full of a variety of viewpoints and with respectful and open communication we can all learn from one another, which ultimately allows us to all uphold a compassionate, respectful response to our children.

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Kelly Bartlett (35 Posts)

Kelly Bartlett is the author of "Encouraging Words For Kids". She is an API leader, Certified Positive Discipline Educator, and freelance writer with a focus on child development, family relationships, and discipline. Follow her blog at Parenting From Scratch.


{ 184 comments… read them below or add one }

kelly May 13, 2011 at 9:05 am

Love this post :)

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Celeste May 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Live your life by decisons based in truth, and not by emotion.This idea of making decisons based on feelings often leads to grave errors. We can convince ourselves that we can beat the train, and handle the drugs, and just this once won’t hurt. And that is not truth.
Yes, teach your children to think thru decisions, not rely on others for information. But teach them to trust you as the parent, being absolutely trustworthy yourself.
John 14:6

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Jennifer May 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm

We are struggling with this right now with our almost 4 year old as we try and teach him to respect the personal space of others. I find myself starting to say something to punish him then stop mid sentence not knowing what to do.

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Fun Mama - Deanna May 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I understand the point, but there is no time for reasoning when the order is “don’t hit the baby,” “don’t run out in the street,” “don’t run away from me in a crowd.” Sometimes I need my child just to trust me and I’ll explain later.

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val May 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Are you SURE it’s going to pay off in 10 years? Hmmm….I think it’s important for children to learn to respect and obey authority. And as they learn to do so at early ages then you eventually give them more and more responsibility. They need to understand that not obeying has consequences, whatever that might be, because in real life, it will. They need to know that there ARE times to obey without hesitation and this can be important in situations where their lives are endangered. Really…do you want your kids to stop and think about whether they should obey or not when they are playing in the street (if you’re leaving the decisions up to them and not the parent, this will happen) and a car is barreling down the road? I hope that they will hear mom’s voice and RESPOND because they have been trained to do so. Again, as they mature then they are given more freedom to choose in some of the other decisions but mom and dad are still the authority figure. If they do not learn to respect authority NOW, good luck with that later in life.

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Karin May 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I totally agree that raising my goal is to raise a child who can think for himself and assess situations appropriately. However, a 4-year-old cannot do this all the time and cannot yet keep themselves safe in all situations. We are teaching our son that if we say “stop”, he must stop what he is doing and THEN ask why or give an explanation as to why he wants to continue what he’s doing. Similarly, if we say “come here, please”, he also needs to do it first and then talk about it. These are simple safety measures. If he’s riding his trike and about to hit a slope into the street, I can’t get into a conversation with him about the physics of that (which I’m more than happy to do) until AFTER he’s stopped and is safe.

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Leigh May 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I see your point…however, I believe children need to learn to do things because they have to, like it or not. Teaching children to be obedient doesn’t mean they are not also learning to think for themselves. If I tell my daughter she needs to clean her room and allow her to give me reason after reason as to why she shouldn’t then am I teaching her to make excuses? Teaching our children to be obedient is not teaching them to ‘obey’ inappropriate orders, only to do what is their responsibility to get done. It is teaching them that in the future they will have a job, hopefully, and they will have responsibilities in that job. If their boss tells them to do something, something that is their responsibility to get done, and they don’t want to, I don’t think their boss is going to have time to listen to their reasons why they shouldn’t do it. Same goes for college. A professor may give them an assignment that they dont feel necessary to do. They still need to ‘obey’ their professor and do the assignment unless they choose to fail it. You may not like the word ‘obey’ but, there are lessons to learn in obeying others.

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val May 15, 2011 at 11:59 am

Very well put Leigh – great examples. :)

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Jenny May 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm

I prefer to consider those things choices. Lots and lots of people that have grown up being forced to obey STILL don’t follow through on assignments, or jobs, or other sorts of commitments. That logic doesn’t follow.

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val May 15, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Choices – yes they can CHOOSE to obey or not! Becoming obedient is not forceful. It can be done in a gentle and loving manner.

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Jenny May 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm

The problem with what Leigh is saying is that it assumes that if the parents make children obey, then they will know and obey once they aren’t living with their parents.

That logic doesn’t follow. It’s better to see it as choices. All people make choices about following the rules or not. That applies to children and parents too. The downside of imposing rules, as a parent, is that it undermines the relationship when a child chooses not to obey. How in the world does a parent mete out consequences in a gentle and loving way? The parent may certainly feel that way about it, but I can almost guarantee the child won’t. Time outs don’t feel peaceful to the one being forced to isolate themselves. It’s like the kid in the corner with the dunce cap. There is very little difference.

Shame and blame can be ever so subtle and seem very kind and polite, but they aren’t. There is no way to make a child obey and comply without shame and blame happening. Saying “you did this” to your child is blame, and putting them in time out is shame. Some kids might learn to obey and not do whatever it is their parents want them to not do, but at what cost?

Shame and blame have a huge cost to a relationship. People spend tons of money and years in therapy because of that stuff. Some people never recover. I simply won’t do that to my children. I’ve seen the cost of that stuff in other people’s children and I don’t want that in my life.

val May 16, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Jenny….I don’t see it as shame and blame at ALL. If we use the time out method at all, it’s merely to step back from the situation and reflect on what might have been a better choice. Once they have done that we discuss it. I don’t harshly send them to the corner (ok I have but that is not what I strive to do or do most times!) It’s more of an open ended step away, “Ana, I think you could have handled that a lot better. I want you to go sit down over there and think about how you could have done that and come and talk to me when you’re ready.” There is no blame or shame in that! Consequences….aside from that because that is NOT the primary thing we would do in our house. They are natural consequences OR things that have been set in place ahead of time as a result of “not obeying” the “rules”. I know two phrases you all can’t stand. LOL Example: We have the kids pick up their rooms before bed. Sometimes they have issues with this. And hear me out, I’m not pointing my finger yelling “Clean that mess!” but instead ASKING them to please go pick up and if you do it quickly and well then you’ll have a bit more time before it’s time to go to sleep. They get that. Natural consequence…they have a bad attitude about it, argue about it or simply don’t do it well, they don’t get that extra time. Sometimes all it takes is one sibling obeying and getting it done and taking advantage of that extra 5 mins or so to play quietly before bed….when the other one is being put to bed and that’s it. The next time you bet they are both picking up because they know the consequence. I didn’t have to be harsh and yell “In your bed now!” They knew what would happen ahead of time and yes I do put it in the way of choices. They understand they can choose to obey the request or not and they understand both outcomes depending on what they choose. They learn to choose wiser next time. :)

sarah May 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

There are a lot of things that I agree with in this post. However, I think it is important for us as parents to draw a line for our kids. There are moments when they absolutely must “obey” us – for example, when they are running towards a busy street and we tell them to stop. My 15 month old knows that there are certain times and places when she must listen and do as I ask, and I’ve taught her to do so inorder to protect her safety in the bathroom, kitchen, and when we are outside. I understand and agree with the impulse to encourage our children to think so that they will grow up to be thoughtful, reasoning adults, I just think that the impulse needs to be tempered a bit.

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carrie May 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I think the we as a society tend to swing the pendulum too far one way (be seen and not heard – obey everything- question nothing) and then too far the other (natural consequences only). These are our children and we have a responsibility to teach them the difference between right and wrong and to teach them how to respect authority and to teach them how to think for themselves and our responsibility to teach them the skillset they will need to be successful in life. If there are natural consequences that you can highlight – GREAT – use them- but if there are not immediate or visible responses to your child’s behavior that doesn’t mean there is not still a lesson YOU as a parent have to teach them. Sometimes they do need to obey- mindlessly- when you’ve grabbed a cup from the counter to mix paint thinner in the garage and they reach to take a drink I want to be sure my kid will listen when i stay “stop” or “no!” and not just think- i’m already 5 years old and know i’m thirsty and *know* that this is apple juice. Balance is the key.

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Sarah May 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Thank you for this. I’ve had a really hard time with my 3 1/2 year old – barking orders when he doesn’t do what he’s told, getting frustrated when he wants to “discuss” other options. Thank you for reminding me that the easier route is not the best route.

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Martha Lee May 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I couldn’t agree more! Growing up, “because I said so” was one of the most dreaded statements to come from my mother’s mouth. Way to take the easy way out of an explanation or reasoning! I also got “because I’m the mama – that’s why” a lot – maybe because there were 4 of us to raise, or maybe because she was just plain TIRED of explaining herself all the time, but I love the idea of raising children who are inquisitive in nature and therefore great thinkers like I consider myself to be (even though my mother totally used the trump card!!) lol. great article!!

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Annette K. May 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm

I find that the more parents I speak to, the more we all feel as though we read and speak to mothers and learn as much as we can, and everything tells us what NOT to do…but there is so little direction as to how we can best HANDLE a situation. I have a 3 year old and a baby on the way, and I have faced some great challenges in reconciling philosophies and realities in parenting. I am however eternally grateful for these resources, because I feel my child would be lost with a traditional “authoritarian” method of parenting. He would be silenced and shamed and probably rebel past the amazing person he might otherwise become, and already is. I only hope for the continued wisdom to guide him to that “best self”.

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Becky S. May 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Agreed Annette! I keep working to develop a mutually respectful relationship with my kids, so that when the natural time comes for them to ‘strike out on their own’ they still see their dad and I as resources and not like they will be ordered around and shamed for their ‘bad decisions’. We all make bed decisions at some point, and that is often when we learn the most… because we internalize the experience. This is not the easy road, especially since so many people believe children should ‘obey’. I will keep reading these fascinating responses, for on this rather liberal blog their seems to be a lot of people completely missing the point, or perhaps not really being sure how to have a more compassionate and less authoritarian way of parenting!~

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Piper May 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Come ON, people! Respecting your children includes envisioning the responsible, respectable, mature adults they will someday be. You’re not doing them any favors by letting them call all the shots.
Sometimes kids’ retorts about why they don’t want to do something are FUNNY (“I don’t want to go for walk because I hate sunshine”), but in order to keep everyone sane, children have to treat people with respect and yes, learn to *gasp!* obey.
I’m sorry if I’m stepping on any toes here, but I have seen mothers break down sobbing because they can’t get their children to do ANYTHING.
As at least one of the commenters above wisely said, teaching obedience does NOT mean you’re teaching them not to think for themselves. For crying out loud, they will think for themselves in innumerable ways – but this universe also operates under rules and laws. One must be humble enough to submit, and share the love and care and nutured intelligence that is cultivated in that balance vs. chaos.
Look at Lady Gaga. Do you want your kid to be Lady Gaga?
If you do, good luck with that. ;)

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Becky S. May 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm

This is not about letting kids rule the roost. It is about showing kids respect so that they learn to show respect back. It is about unconditional love, often what we as parents need to be giving ourselves and find so hard since many were raised without it. This is about joining WITH our children to create joy and a purpose-filled life. I let my children decide when to put jackets on. Yes, it’s frustrating sometimes when it’s raining and I know we’re going to get 2 feet outside the door and they are going to want their coats on (which I have brought along), and I’m going to need to stand in the rain to put them on, but I KNOW for certain, that they know their bodies best and that they will learn when THEY need coats, not just when mama says they need coats, and for me, that is way more important than standing in the rain and being slightly damp for a few minutes. And now my 5 year old understands that he knows his body best and I know he will respect it in the future when faced with fast cars, drugs, strenous sports etc… he knows how to listen to his body and respond appropriately, not just wait for someone to tell him what to do. And if my kids wants to follow their passion and be a rock star like Lady Gaga… bravo for following their heart!

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eliza May 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Can’t it be, obey your parents and hesitate with others? I respectfully submit the notion that there’s a time/place/person to obey without hesitation, but that time isn’t when a 3 year old is wondering whether or not to peddle her scooter into oncoming traffic despite her parents’ protestations… we have to make allowance for cognitive capabilities, maturities, and approximate those to the appropriate age.

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Becky S. May 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Of course, that’s why you would stay with your child, guiding them and listening to their emotions, whatever they might be, if you need to stop them, gently, from riding into traffic. Yes, pay attention to their cognitive abilities, and always treat them with respect.

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Tracie May 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Children are foolish. Children need someone (parents) to draw a line for them. They need to obey WITHOUT hesitation. This will become more and more important as they get older and must make tough decisions. Teach you children to obey you, not “just because I said so,” but because it is the right thing to do. Teach your children morals. Teach you children to NOT go by their feelings and instinct. These can be truly wrong at times. Children must be taught to be obedient. Only then will they understand how to make proper decisions later on.

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Becky S. May 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Please elaborate on how they will be able to make ‘proper decisions later on” if they are not allowed to make their own decisions about the ‘simple’ things of childhood with their own parents? I’m confused… Obedience, in my mind, only teaches children to listen to what others tell them to do, and in the case of teenagers, I wnat mine to be outspoken and know their own minds and bodies, instead of just following the crowd.

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Cindy Montejo May 13, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Although I agree with your sentiments, I’ve not adopted this philosophy 100%. Here is why:

As research continues to tell us, children and teenager’s brains are not fully developed. We, as parents, need to be mindful of that when allowing them to make their own decisions and make their own mistakes. It’s our job to help them navigate through life safely to adulthood and that takes a certain amount ot telling your child NO. You should not allow your 4 year old to wander the streets alone, to beat the neighbor’s child senseless, or to play with the circuit box in the basement. I’m a believer in this philosophy: if your child draws on the walls with crayons, comlement her creative idea, give her a beter place to express herself, then have her help clean it up. If she doesn’t want to… too bad, part of growing is learning respect for place and people.

As an experienced teacher and mother I encourage children to explore and make many decisions for themselves. It’s vital that children learn critical thinking skills as they become productive and free-thinking adults. It’s also true that children and teenageers can be very seriously injured because they do not have the ability to see a situation through to a safe ending. It’s why children and teenagers can not drink, drive vehicals, or vote. Don’t make the mistake of trusting them 100%. It’s not fair to them and they do not have the ability to survive without an active parent. Babies and young children thrive with some structure and consistency, as they age the need for structure becomes less. It’s important to pay attention to their cues and give them freedom when you see they are ready.

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John May 13, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I do expect that my children listen to me. But the keys lie more in the parents’ attitudes than the child’s attitude. Children should obey parents who do things for their children out of love. Although we as parents always make mistakes, if we our constantly checking our attitudes and aplogizing when we are wrong our children have a better chance of developing a healthy relationship with us. I believe it is unhealthy and confusing for a child to be allowed to be disobedient due to the fact that respect for authority is a great thing to learn.

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Allison May 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm

I disagree. We are raising adults here, not children and in the world of adults there are laws and rules that are meant to be obeyed and not questioned in many circumstances such as work environment and not to mention in religion! The Bible is full of rules from God that if we don’t obey will bring us eternal damnation. So, off the religion though, teaching children to obey can also be a matter of life and death. Not establishing a “rule” to obey such as making a toddler hold your hand, for example, while crossing the street or a parking lot can result in injury or death.

Obeying an immediate command without questioning is a cornerstone and part of the foundation of raising adults. It teaches respect for the adult or established organization issuing the request. It’s embarrassing for a parent to have their child question and argue and discuss whatever with say, with another parent who is watching the child. If the adult childsitter asks or tells my kid to do something, I expect immediate compliance out of simple respect and consideration.

Critical thinking skills and forethought comes with age and just as obeying, also needs to be taught by the parent. Questioning comes with growing and development and as a parent it is our job to provide a safe environment for the child, now probably teenager at this point, to express their feelings and question respectfully, and in turn respecting your answer and response to their question(s) and doing what their told if their question required an action of some sort.

My job as a parent is multi-faceted, to give them all the tools, including to obey and respect, among many other things, to be successful contributing adults to society, as well as to be available for them for guidance or assistance as they grow older. As a parent and roof provider, for example, my out of public education children should still obey and respect the household rules if any have been established. But once they are out on their own, paying their own rent/bills/car insurance/etc. then the obeying stops. If it’s done right, this now twenty+ year old will still ask for parental advice and incorporate that recommendation into their thought process yet not have to “obey” (and aren’t comdemned by their parents) because as adults they are on nearly equal footing.

Thanks for reading my two cents!

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Rob Kinyon May 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I think that you are abrogating your central responsibility as a parent. It is possible to have obedient children, especially children under the age of 10, and have deliberate and free-thinking ones as well. The key is to know when to give an order and when to not.

My five children obey me unquestioningly because I have to ensure their safety. If they’re about to do something stupid, I have to know that they will stop when I say stop and go when I say go. Danger is not the time to have a discussion and convince them. A child literally has no context for adult-understood dangers.

It is now incumbent on me to *not* give orders when their safety is not in danger. And I work very hard not to. It’s very tempting to treat children as “little adults” – it’s also very wrong.

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Debbie May 13, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I think it needs to be both. If my 2 yo is about to step in front of a moving car, or sample a poisonous berry, or there is an earthquake, I need immediate obedience when I say stop, no, or come here. upon a foundation of that, I encourage questioning and exploration. Obedience isnt a dirty word when we consider one of our primary jobs is to protect. However, I agree that parents should not report “because I told you so!” Have and give reasonable reasons.

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Audrey May 14, 2011 at 10:41 am

I agree with this. I want my children to be able to think for themselves and make their own decisions, but I also need them to listen to me when I tell them no in a dangerous situation or when the answer is just no and I can’t take time to explain why. It doesn’t mean I don’t want them to be free thinking or question authority. It just means I want them to be able to determine when it’s appropriate to do so.

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nicole May 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Actually, when you do not constantly expect your children to be obedient or to take orders…when they are in danger and you say STOP!!!, they stop. Because they are startled! Because they are not disillusioned to hear dramatic “orders” from adults 24/7. “Come here. Sit down. Stop doing that. Do this. Stop doing that. Do that. Walk. Be quiet. Use your spoon. Stand up. Walk faster. No, not there. Here. Come here. Now.” After all of that, STOP!!! seems less important.

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val May 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm

And that’s a great example of being too far on the other end. I think that’s absolutely true. If we are barking orders constantly and expecting compliance to turn right instead of left (for no good reason) and never giving our children a chance to make their own choices or exercise any sort of free will then not only do we dampen their spirits and personalities but you’re right….eventually if this goes on too long there won’t be much difference between a life and death “STOP” or a “STOP don’t go that way, we are turning this way”.

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val May 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm

i think that’s a good way to put it debbie.

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Emily May 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I think this article is wonderful. It’s a little more work raising kids who think for themselves and are allowed to dislike limits, etc. but so very worth it. I have four children and have never used any kind of punishments with them. They are spirited, exuberant, loud, messy people with many needs, as I expect children to be. They also are responsible, respectful, and compassionate. They do the right thing for the right reasons, not out of fear of punishment or in expectation of a reward, but because we are close and connected and so they have embodied our family’s values. They take our advice, and come to us with their questions and ideas, which makes them safer in the world. Respectful non-punitive parenting is NOT the same as permissive parenting. I get weary of hearing about punishments, which harm children in a very real way, being justified because there are parents out there who are permissive. The majority of parents out in the world are over-controlling and demanding, have no clue about normal brain development (expect way too much of small children), and could use a little more empathy in their parenting repertoire. If you don’t believe me, go to a shopping mall this weekend and observe parents with their children. I discipline my children, I have limits, I say no. I don’t expect young children to act like older children, though. I don’t punish them when they don’t jump through my hoops, or when they forget something it seems they knew yesterday, or when they cry or have other feelings. I simply set a limit, give empathy, stick with my limit, listen to feelings, and stick with my limit. My children feel respected even when they don’t get what they want. They LISTEN to me MORE because they trust me and feel connected with me. The teenage years have been a breeze, and I wholeheartedly look forward to many wonderful years of strong relationships with my children when they are adults.

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val May 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I truly wonder if it’s a cultural thing because you mention observing in a shopping mall how parents interact with their kids…but when I go out where I live I see the EXACT opposite. I see parents that give their kids whatever they want…I see kids running the isles in front of others without respect to anyone around them….I see kids yelling and out of control….I see parents shopping without a care in the world and half the time I wonder what kids belong to what parent? I have seen this at the beach as well….a little girl latched onto our family as we played in the water (with big waves btw) and I asked her where her parents were…she didn’t know…and her parents obviously could care less that she’s playing in the ocean with a family that they don’t know. I don’t know where you live and what you see but I surely don’t see it here by any means. It’s a rare day that I see a mother actually say no, hold a hand to cross the street, tell their child to use an indoor voice or question anything they are doing. So, your example of “the majority of parents in the world” is quite a statement based on your small section of YOUR world right around you but sure doesn’t embody reality. I do agree with much of what you say otherwise though I can honestly say that I hope my parenting skills will continue to embrace my children in a positive way as yours seems to have. To have teenage years a breeze….what a dream! You’ve obviously done something right. :)

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Celeste Peters May 13, 2011 at 4:52 pm

God doesn’t have to explain himself. He says, so we should do. He is our Father, so isn’t that how parents should model themselves?

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Emily May 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Oh, I wanted to add about brain development – a 2 year old is NOT capable of managing themselves around busy streets, poisonous plants, or natural disasters. PLEASE don’t rely on their fear of rejection/punishment of a parent to keep them safe in the world. HOLD them or their hand near busy streets, until they are able to understand how to cross on their own. Be right there and physically stop their hand before they put poison in their mouth, or hit someone. That’s called “get off your butt parenting”, physically set limits to keep everyone safe. There is no need to add punishment to the mix, and besides it doesn’t work (you aren’t going to now let a toddler play near the street alone because he’s been yelled at once or twice about it, you have to wait for development anyway), and as kids get older the stakes go up – they will figure out how to not get caught (sneaking) or to lie to get out of punishment, and that’s really not safe because then you don’t know what they are doing when you’re not around, and they are often internalizing that they are bad or wrong, when in reality their brain is just not formed enough yet to know better. Children do well when they can. They lack impulse control and other functions of the frontal lobe, and they don’t know how to meet unmet needs in productive ways yet – we need to teach and guide them slowly and kindly, and sometimes firmly, and with great respect for the process.

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Cindy Montejo May 16, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Agreed. 100%.

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Debbie May 22, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I don’t think this is a discussion about punishment. Obedience can be taught in multiple ways. I’m not sitting on my butt as a parent, but I’m not going to rely on always being able to physically prevent disaster. When it comes to safety, I want obedience IN ADDITION to mt doing every thing I can.

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Linda May 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I agree with you, Debbi. At these young ages protecting our children is of utmost importance. I believe that there is a time and a place for both obedience and questioning. In the long run, learing to think for onself will be a criticle skill. One that I am glad my children posess. Our children do need to understand that we have lived longer than they and, therefore, have a larger and more criticle view of what is likely to happen under certain cercumstances. Our tone of voice and emphasis tell our children that we mean business, or that it is alright to question. We teach them more specificly after we protect them, via reasonable explainations.

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Amy May 13, 2011 at 5:42 pm

I think that deliberate “dis-obedience” has it’s place in learning to live. I also agree with your non-punitive, attachment style of parenting. However, I have to slightly disagree on the discussion of obedience. I agree with Debbie. Obedience has it’s place, and it’s an important one. For me as a gentle Christian mama, natural parenting includes obedience to one’s mother and father, as well as obedience to the Lord. . . and safety rules/ social contracts (like “we don’t hit” or “others deserve our respect” or “always be kind”)

But I am very happy when my child is discerning – and tries to bend rules and directions that are OK to bend. Discernment, not disobedience – is what I strive to teach my children.

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Janine @ Alternative Housewife May 13, 2011 at 7:09 pm

I LOVE THIS POST! I agree 100%. I tried to explain this concept to people on The Bump while I was pregnant (oh, why do I even bother) and got FLAMED. Apparently manners for manners sake is still a big virtue for most.

Now I am off to check out your personal blog – I’m in Portland too!

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Tabitha May 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm

yes, manners are a virtue. Do unto others and all that jazz. Rude people do not do very well in the world. one of my friends has a 12 year old child who has been asked to leave one playgroup, and has been ostracized from a second. I have another friend whose child was asked to leave 3 preschools. Both were raised to question, and to disobey. It is not serving them. Parents and children alike do not want to spend time with them. manners matter.

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Brandy May 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm

This is a fabulous piece of writing! Thanks for articulating the matter so well!

Our four year old is fiercely independent and loves to make her decisions. We give her the choices at what she wants to do i.e; you can choose to be safe and play here OR you can choose to not to be and have to pick a different activity in a different location. This is a fabulous system that allows her to ‘choose’ in a manner that satisfies us both instead of simply saying you aren’t allowed because I said so.

Again, this article hits the nail on the head!

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Anna May 14, 2011 at 12:54 am

Sounds good, but it is a scientifically proven fact that the part of the brain which deals with rational analysis is not fully developed until people are past thier teens. This is why children tend to be so impulsive, so it is almost impossible to expect young children to think things through all the time, and consider the benefits and drawbacks of thier actions.

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Karen" A May 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm

I wonder if that “scientific fact” is only true in western civilization where children aren’t treated with much respect, and kept childish & dependent (i.e. school, authoritarian parenting etc) until they’re finished their teen years? I wonder if in countries where children have more natural responsibility (not “you have to clean your room because I say so” but, “I need you to look after your younger siblings so I can work in the rice paddy so we can eat dinner tonight”), their brains develop the ability for rationalising etc at a younger age? Perhaps our kids’ brains develop later because they’re kept in artificial childhood til school’s out, etc. If it’s not different in other countries where they’re raised differently, how is it that their “children” are getting married and raising families and running a household while our children are still in junior high?

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mamapoekie May 14, 2011 at 1:27 am

It’s not about disobedience, it’s about creating a relationship that is based on equality and respect, rather than hierarchy, coercion and inferiority

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Katy May 14, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Believe me when I tell you that you don’t want a relationship built on “equality” when they are teenagers. My children are both in their twenties; I feel qualified to speak on all the stages of child-rearing.

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Debbie May 14, 2011 at 6:11 am

I think a certain level of naughty is a healthy in a child. My psych reminds me to say to my son, You know son, children can be naughty sometimes but this putting poo out of the nappy on the wall is not appropriate. Children that are completely obedient lose some resilience I think.

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Jessica May 14, 2011 at 7:18 am

I agree with this to a point. Kids will be naughty sometimes, and as parents it is our job to shape them rather than break them. But my daughter’s got a sassy mouth on her, yea, and that is something i do not tolerate in the very least.

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Jennifer May 14, 2011 at 8:58 am

Now that my children are far beyond the young ages I am so grateful that I put in the time to train instead of demand. As my oldest left home it was wonderful to know that he already makes great decisions for his life. I was able to see him as an adult the moment he turned 18 because he had been practicing making decisions since he was very young. The same types of people who complain that I don’t have enough rules for my younger children and insist that I compel them to obey me (ie grandparents) now rave about how great the finished kid is. Too many adults find a young children or teen to be obnoxious who will question them and want explanation of requests. But that is the child who respects themselves and the others around them as they live worthy of that respect. Keep up the good work, it is work but it is worth the time on the front end. I am lucky to be one of the few I know who think that her teenagers are the most amazing people around and they even like to have me hang out with them in public :D . They know that if I require something there is a good reason for it and I will always take the time to talk about why I ask it, even if the reason is “I have a feeling it is right” the respect we have has caused them to choose to follow (not obey) because they know they are not compeled but they want to.

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rowena___. May 14, 2011 at 10:44 am
Susan Cowger May 14, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Read NURTURE SHOCK by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Research based–very interesting.

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val May 14, 2011 at 3:03 pm

i think all children are naturally going to push boundries and limits. it’s up to us as parents to define them and know when enough is enough. if we allow them to push every boundry we set while they are young in the name of allowing them to be free and creative…then when they are teens it’s going to be a whole other ballgame to deal with not having that foundation already in place.

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meredith May 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm

The trouble with “obedience” is that parents can fall into the trap of expecting it to do the work of parenting for them. I didn’t trust my 2yos Not to run in front of a car or eat some random fruit at my say-so, I expected to be vigilant ;) I’ve found that by becoming trustworthy as a parent, my kids have reasons to trust me that go beyond obedience. Giving reasons for rules is a good first step – but really, if kids understand the reasons, they don’t need the rules, they can agree or disagree, in person, and work toward finding a better set of reasons rather than merely defaulting to compliance or rebellion.

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Kirstin May 14, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I really appreciate your thoughts, but as the inexperienced Mama of a one-year-old, my question is, how do you foster the deliberation? What does it look like to explain yourself rather than simply require obedience?

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Jenny May 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm

You be there partner. When you see that your younger, inexperienced partner is about to do something dangerous, you help them not to. You hold their hands in parking lots and help them cross streets. You give them things to play with in the kitchen that are satisfying their curiosity.

If you foster that kind of relationship with them when they are little, you won’t need to get them to obey, they will just do, and when they don’t, you are either asking something of them that they are incapable of at the moment, or they have a good other reason not to.

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val May 15, 2011 at 8:15 pm

So you think that if you keep them occupied in the kitchen they will NEVER EVER be curious as to what that oven is or how the cabinet doors work???? Seriously? I guess maybe something didn’t across correctly in what you are trying to say or I’m completely misunderstanding but in my experience kids are naturally curious…it’s how they learn about the world around them…and perhaps they aren’t going after the stove in your house because you are hovering and giving them other activities to do, which is great (and might I add dangerous in and of itself if you are having to do this WHILE cooking over a hot stove/oven) but as they grow just a tad older, aren’t they going to want to naturally mimic what mommy does and get bored with the other things around them that no longer satisfy? It would take one 30 second pee break on your part to find the stool in place and the stove on and a hand on the brink of getting burned. Isn’t it safer to teach boundaries WHILE keeping them engaged and what not so that they learn “the stove is not for touching without mommy here”? Isn’t it exactly those kind of situations that cries out for obedience????

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Jenny May 15, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Actually, I said “satisfy their curiosity”. You misread entirely.

No child wants to get hurt. My oldest started using the stove safely at the age of 2 with my help. She learned to use it because I helped her to do so. Neither of my kids have ever felt the desire to endanger themselves and I’ve never made them obey to get that result. I helped them figure out how to cross the street, build fires and use knives. Neither of them have ever been hit by a car, set the house on fire or cut themselves severely.

There are other ways to help children learn about the dangers of the world than to make them obey.

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Becky S. May 15, 2011 at 10:22 pm

I agree Jenny – you help them to learn about the world by partnering with them… because otherwise the “scary hot stove” becomes scary and the sharp knives become very interesting (and something to be done behind mom and dad’s back). I remember one of my first experiences with watching a connected parent and her child. Her child had picked up a rather large rock with some sharp edges. I was young and without kids. My first response in my head was “put that down! It’s sharp!” because that is what my mother would have said to me. This mom, however, got down on her child’s level, made eye contact, commented on her child holding this large rock, her daughter proceeded to talk about what she liked about the rock, they looked at the rock together and then the child carefully and without getting hurt, put the rock down and joyfully went on to the next rock, knowing her mom was interested in this activity and joining with her in it. The joy and love was almost palpable. It was a turning point for me, because I knew that was how I wanted to parent. Can I do that all the time? Nope. Do I try as much as possible to stop what I’m doing, join my children and keep judgement and coercion out of it… absolutely!

val May 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm

But as you are teaching them how to do these things “safely”, aren’t you implying rules and boundaries as you do that….and thus requiring their adherence and “obedience” to them? Had your children not obeyed the rules you set down on how to do those activities safely, they would have gotten hurt.

What about at school if they attend one (not sure if you homeschool)? If they follow the rules, get to class on time, complete assignments in the way and timeline as they are asked, etc – are they not “obeying”?

From what you described you have great kids and you yourself sound like a loving, connected and gentle mom…but they ARE in fact “obedient”. I think perhaps the difference is in how you envision getting them to that point. I am seeing that many picture harsh punishments, yelling or even physical contact to force a child to obey where that is not the case. Obedience can come from loving explanation and gentle guidance.

Jenny May 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm

It’s not about implying rules and boundaries and enforcing them. It’s about knowing that the world is large and expansive and helping our kids figure out how to navigate it.

That CAN be done without making rules and enforcing them. As others have pointed out, there are plenty of rules and boundaries already in existence in the world. Do I really need to create more for my children? I can help them learn how to live with the ones that already exist.

Living safely is more about logic than about enforcement of rules. Kids can learn better how to think logically if they aren’t told “because I said so”, which isn’t at all about logic, but about one older, bigger person imposing their will onto a smaller, younger person.

Kids don’t want to get hurt. It’s logical to assume that they don’t want to run into the street and get hit by a car. When they are really small, we avoid that by crossing with them. As they get older they see more cars, more streets, and have a better understanding of how cars and streets work. Making a rule about street usage doesn’t necessarily help kids learn about street usage. It’s simply a rule and sometimes kids have zero idea WHY a rule exists beyond the fact that mom or dad made it. It seems much better to not make rules and help kids learn why to do or not do various things.

There is no obedience in there, simply logically doing what makes sense to do or not do based on their understanding which you helped them with while they are young, so that by the time they want a bit of independence you won’t need a bunch of rules in place to keep kids inside of boundaries. They’ll make choices based on the already existing boundaries and rules that exist in the world.

D May 14, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I think to cause a child to only do as you say without questioning anything, a parent would really have to literally beat them into submission, and that to me is obviously not okay.

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Jenny May 16, 2011 at 4:42 pm

More commonly though, what happens, is that kids just do what they want and lie and sneak behind their parent’s backs. Any parent can make any rule and have consequences for those rules if broken. That doesn’t mean much if a kid is still willing to break the rules. Sometimes kids break rules and never get caught because they are sneaky and intelligent.

That is often assumed to be an inherent given in teenagers. That they will be sneaky and lie about things.

Not exactly the kind of relationship I want with my kids. I prefer honesty and being up front about things. That’s what you get when you don’t make a bunch of rules with consequences. You have kids that tell you what they are about to do or what they already did, whether you like those actions or not, and then you can talk about it and how to do better or different the next time, or play “what if?” scenarios to help give other possibly not thought about perspectives.

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Amber May 14, 2011 at 5:48 pm

I agree – obedience is not something I strive to cultivate in my children. Mutual respect is. When I don’t give arbitrary orders, but instead engage in a respectful discussion and make my position clear, they’re learning how to think and engage. And they’re more likely to listen when I lay down safety rules and so on.

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katrina May 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm

With the privilege of becoming a parent comes the daunting responsibility of protecting, nurturing, and teaching a child. Parenthood is about balance, and I think helping children be obedient on some level will make them thriving members of society. I had no respect for authority growing up because I had no authority at home. I had no understanding of how to accomplish tasks when I was on my own because my parents never made me do homework or, really, anything at all. Kids thrive within the realms of creativity, structure, discipline, freedom, and obedience. Like almost everything in life, parenthood is about balance.

On I side note, as a parent and an adult, there are things I know about this world that my 1 year-old does not. I do not feel like there is “mutual respect” because honestly, she is 1. I will respect her individuality and space because she is her own person. However, I am her parent and I am not here to be her best friend and have respectful discussions about why I do not want her to spill her sippy cup of apple juice on my Macbook Pro. Children are simply that: children. I love to see them grow and create and break barriers, but within the realm of supervision. They will always do things that are considered naughty, and you have to choose your battles. But a child that understands how to obey on some level will be able to more completely handle the inevitable brushes with authority that adults face on a daily basis.

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KK May 15, 2011 at 12:42 am

This seems nice in a fantasyland sort of way. My mom was overly permissive and I turned out having a great relationship with Mom but a hard time with authority of any kind. I question and often snub the orders of teachers, police, bosses, signs that say “no u-turn.” I think I know better than they do because I was taught critical thinking and to question authority. Not always a good thing. It has been impossible for me to thrive as an employee of anyone. I think it would be better if I had learned to obey. It is part of our culture and not having the ability to obey makes it hard to adapt to the real adult world, which definitely has various levels of hierarchy. Now that I am nearing 40 and have a 16 year old that I raised with rules and guidance and see that he is a straight A honors student that doesn’t drink or do drugs and wants to be a doctor, I think I did it right. He is confident, assertive, rational, articulate and (believe it or not) knows when to question authority. He also knows when not to. I hope to raise my toddler with the same sense of discipline and obedience if such nasty things result in the steller teenager I have.

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Susan Cowger May 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Read NURTURE SHOCK> You will like it.

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Tabitha May 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm

my kids are now considerably older than yours and I can say that disobediance is not a challenge one can avoid later too. It does not always gets better with time. I still cannot get them to participate in the simple chores of the house without yelling fighting crying explanations and maternal exhaustion. it creates discord between my husband and myself. What I would give to go back in time and create obediant expectations.

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Becky S. May 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I offer a gentle suggestion: joyfully go about the mundane things of keeping house and gently look for ways to engage your children in said acitvities: without coercion, without threat, without punishment/reward. I am amazed when I change MY attitude from “argh, I just need to get the dishes done”, to “wow! I get to soak my hands in this nice warm water while I wash the dishes”. Suddenly, it’s much more appealing to my children, and they offer to help. And I haven’t even daid anything to them! It will take more time with older children, but I am confident that your change in attitude will not only improve your outlook, but also your children’s feelings toward helping. They might not do it as you would, but they will help. Just give up the yelling/fighting/crying… and reach out for connection and joy. It’s not easy, but you will feel better about everything. Check out Scott Noelle’s website for more information. It’s never too late to start!

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Tabitha May 19, 2011 at 9:09 pm

I would love it if this ideal was a reality. I have tried this, i have tried doing it myself. I have explained why it is important to work together as a family, i have let it all go to showthe consequences of a messy house. My friends who were more authoritative, haveclean houses and kids who do their homeschool lessons

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Susy May 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I have to say I am a little ambivalent about the arguments made in this article. I don’t label my parenting style as “attachment” per se, but I certainly integrate many of AP approaches in our lives. That being said, I certainly think there is value in children trusting their parents when something is asked of them. If I ask something reasonable in a respectful way, then I expect my child to do as I have asked. I believe as a parent it is my duty to have reasonable expectations of my child and to teach my child to follow through and complete things that are asked of him so he can contribute to our family. I do my share, my husband does his share, and my children must do theirs. If I ask him to put his toys away, I expect him to do so because this is his contribution and introduction to housekeeping. At four years of age, there is rarely a “strong” reason not to do what is reasonably expected. I have faith that my children will learn the “doing the right thing” from “doing the wrong thing” from the example my husband and I set. Letting my child be “dis”obedient at four or six years of age because it will teach him how to recognize risky or dangerous things when he is sixteen undermines my child’s ability to learn through example. I think communication is crucial in building mutual trust with my growing child, not letting my child be “disobedient”.

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Lyndz May 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Wow, I appreciate this article immensely. I’m also a bit appalled at the reactions from most of the commenters! What concerns me the most is the apparent belief that parental figures will always make the RIGHT choice for their child. You’re essentially conditioning your child to blind obedience, which assumes that you then are always making the correct choice FOR them. That’s just false…we, as parents, simply cannot be right 100% of the time, and to train my child to blindly accept whatever I command or request as THE correct or expected way to do something is wrong.

I have a 2.5 yr old son, who I am raising without rules, punishments, or discipline measures. When we reach a cross street, he stops and waits for me to cross with him…sometimes he actually ASKS if he can play in the street…and then we watch cars going by, and he decides that he would not like to play in the street. So far, it’s been simple.

He is not a docile child, but then, I do not expect him to be. I EXPECT him to question my requests and to do as I say because he would LIKE to please and/or help me because he likes me. If I am a person he would like to imitate, and treat him with the love and respect I give my adult partner, then he will treat me much the same. Is this a hard concept to grasp? I find it hard to believe that my child is the ONLY 2 year old in the world who will stop at a cross street without being screamed at or commanded because he has been told how streets work and had proper safety guidelines explained to him before…

or the hitting thing…do children really just hit the crap out of other kids if their parents don’t hover and command acceptable behavior? Seriously…?!

And, as for the brain development issue, a recent study just found that in fact, it’s the current parenting trend that is stunting development of the brain. By not seeing firsthand the consequences of their actions throughout early childhood, teenagers are not developing certain brain pathways that would facilitate better decision making. So…maybe that’s some food for thought.

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Karin May 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I don’t see anyone saying that you need to constantly bark orders at a kid. There aren’t just 2 ways, it’s a whole spectrum. You say you explained to your son how streets work and safety guidelines – aren’t those rules? He stops at crosswalks because you’ve told him this is what you expect of him. He is not old enough to truly understand the consequences of stepping into a busy street. He stops because you’ve told him to do so. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

If one day he ran ahead and bolted into the street, what would you do? Let him make his own choice and keep going? Or run after him and grab him up, yell “stop!”, try to prevent him from getting hurt? You want your children to be respectful of themselves and others – and part of that is listening when someone says something urgently. Stop first, and then ask questions. No, parents are not always right, but 3 year olds don’t always think things through when their favorite ball is rolling into traffic. A child who is actively taught to do what they think is best will think an adult is trying to make them lose their ball by yelling stop…and will ignore it and keep running.

I think of the quote “know the rules, so you can break them effectively”. Teaching your child to obey helps you teach them the rules of the family and society and physics – and then it’s also up to you to teach them how to question everything. It’s not all or nothing. That’s why parenting is so hard. You have to teach them how to listen and question, both.

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val May 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Let’s revisit this in about 5 years….I take it this is your first and only child so far? My dear there are stages…and stages will require different parenting skills and abilities and what you are doing now is working, GREAT, but don’t expect that to remain the case.

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alisha May 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I didn’t read all the comments but i do disagree w/ this. If we as parrents don’t raise our children to be obedient they will never learn to respect authority or hold down a job. I expect and command my children to obey any adult or authority figure, as the bible commands us to raise up obedient children!

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Jenny May 15, 2011 at 6:52 pm

And that is why so many young boys just do with the priest says to do… right?

I would NEVER raise my children to obey an adult or authority figure just because they are an adult or authority figure. Many adults and authority figures do NOT deserve obedience or respect from my children.

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KK May 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Following blind faith is simply ignorance. You

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tegdib May 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm

curious… how old are “your” (the author’s) Children? Have you ever been in a position where their obedience read: respect for what you say because you have more experience in this world than they do, and trust for your guidance has to protect them because you can’t be with them all the time.

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Emily May 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I really don’t have any worries about my kids being able to hold down a job. Having been parented without punishments and rewards, they are extremely intrinsically motivated to do what they love, and regularly contribute in meaningful ways. I have kids age 19, 12, 10, and 6, and I have no problems with safety, chores, etc. We have regular family meetings to work out problems, and constantly fine-tune how we meet everyone’s needs for respect and limits. There is a lot of literature supporting the benefit of connected, unconditional parenting. Check out the work by Alfie Kohn (a lot of research on his website) and Pam Leo (she wrote a book called Connection Parenting, full of practical and effective application).

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KK May 15, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Perhaps the issue here is semantics. People might say they have no rules and don’t punish or discipline their children, but truly, I think they do. Does anyone allow their children to touch the hot stove, play in the busy street, eat too much candy because they have to learn it will makes them sick somehow? Perhaps, but that is child neglect and children do not feel valued and learn to trust parents by having no boundaries and being neglected. The truth is all parents have rules and expect obedience. Teaching your child to obey does not require yelling, beating or telling your children to do things because “I said so.” Sometimes obedienSometimes I give my son a loving time out b If you parent truly are teaching yokur children to be little narcissitic monkeys with no boundaries, all I can say is survial of the fittest will win out. Teaching safety by example

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KK May 15, 2011 at 8:01 pm

There is so many interpretations of this article and so many interesting responses. One thing I thought I might contribute as a mother to a teen and a toddler is that my kids are so different and my toddler responds to a different parenting style than my teen did. They have different fathers. My ex was an ignorant, angry man and my teen was exposed to that however he is a smart, responsible, loving child. My little one has a loving, warm and very involved father and he is mischevious, hits and has a temper. I don’t think temperment completely comes from nurture. There is a lot of genetics involved, current studies claim genetics have more to do with personality than we previously thought, so you have to learn to adapt to some traits that are a little further off on the family tree. There are many ways of doing this, but most importantly children must have a good leader who show them the ropes. Teaching kids to function in society and to be a respectful successful adult who follows rules is only being a considerate parent. Don’t let semantics get in the way of teaching children to be good little citizens. Obedience does have to mean you kids are passive or that they are controlled with an iron fist. On the contrary. You want your kids to obey school rules, the law, their boss, etc but this doesn’t mean that they have to take it in the @$$ from a preist.

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lyla May 15, 2011 at 8:36 pm

i had trouble commenting until just now, for some reason, as the comment fields wouldn’t let me in. so i wrote a blog post with my thoughts – i will just post it here instead of repeating. in essence, i think there are HUGE misconceptions about the differences between “permissive”, neglectful parenting, and parenting that is focused on relationship and does not demand obedience. here are my thoughts:

http://lylawolf.blogspot.com/2011/05/partnership-doesnt-mean-letting-kids-do.html

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